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Could You Be Entitled to Punitive Damages Under Maritime Law?

Sea birds fly around a container ship docked at portIf you are a seaman who was hurt in a maritime accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries under laws similar to workers’ compensation laws, but that give you greater protections due to the inherent dangers of your job. Under the Jones Act, you could receive compensation referred to as maintenance and cure to pay living expenses while you are recovering from your injuries and your medical bills. In addition, you may be entitled to punitive damages depending on your specific situation.

What Are Punitive Damages Under the Jones Act?

Maintenance and cure payments are benefits to compensate you for your injuries. Punitive damages are not awarded for this reason. Instead they are awarded to punish the negligent party—in this case your employer—for its willful, wanton, and/or reckless behavior. To rise to this level of behavior, the actions must be outrageous, grossly negligent, or recklessly indifferent to your rights.

When Can Punitive Damages Be Awarded Under Maritime Law?

The law regarding when punitive damages can be awarded under the Jones Act is not completely clear cut. The United States Supreme Court issued an important decision that allows punitive damage awards in regards to maintenance and cure claims. To be entitled to punitive damages, a seaman’s employer must engage in willful, wanton, or reckless behavior in regards to the following:

  • Failing to pay maintenance and cure.
  • Failing to pay the correct amount of maintenance and cure.
  • Delaying the payment of maintenance and cure.
  • Terminating a seaman’s maintenance and cure benefits without good cause for doing so.

It is less clear whether injured seamen can receive punitive damages in negligence and seaworthiness cases. Some courts allow the award of punitive damages in these cases, while others do not.

Do you believe that you are entitled to punitive damages due to your employer’s treatment of you in regards to your claim for compensation? Attorney Steve Lee is here to answer your questions and help you fight for the compensation that you deserve—including for punitive damages. Start an online chat or call our office today to schedule your free consultation.


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